Women in Prisons: India
This report by the Ministry of Women and Child Development says that prison systems are primarily designed to cater to men and are not well equipped to address the needs of women. The report examines the condition of women in India’s prisons, their rights, the issues they face and how these can be addressed. It combines findings from different studies by the ministry as well as data from other government sources, and makes recommendations to improve the condition of women prisoners.
The report finds gaps in the implementation of some laws, rules and guidelines that ensure women prisoners’ safety, health and education. Many women also live in prison with their children (under the age of 6), and the report says that special care should be taken to ensure their physical and mental health, education and recreation.
The report recommends that all states and union territories fully adopt and implement the National Model Prison Manual 2016, which outlines the entitlements of women in prison. (In 1997, the Supreme Court had directed the central government to prepare this manual and in 2003, the government circulated it to all the states and union territories and asked them to adopt it. In 2016, the manual was updated by the central government, which subsequently advised the states to update their prison manuals too.)The report also says that the National Commission for Prisons be set up as suggested by the Justice A.N. Mulla’s All India Committee on Jail Reforms (1980-1983). The committee had also recommended that the rights of women in prison be recognised.
The UN General Assembly adopted the Bangkok Rules in 2011, which cover the treatment of women in prison and prescribe certain non-custodial measures for women offenders. The Nelson Mandela Rules, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2015, prescribe the international minimum standard for the treatment of all prisoners.
Between 2000 and 2016, the number of women arrested annually for various offences under the Indian Penal Code and other Special and Local Laws was around 3-3.6 lakhs. Only a portion of the arrested women has been incarcerated, either after conviction or when under trial.
Overcrowding is a serious problem in Indian prisons. The national average occupancy of prisons in 2015 was 114.4 per cent. Besides a lack of space for women prisoners, overcrowding has created health and hygiene issues.
As 2015 report by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) states that 17,834 women were in prison at the end of 2015. Of these, only 17 per cent were in women-only prisons. The rest were in the female enclosures of general prisons and constituted 4.3 per cent of the entire prison population. Of the 17,834 women in prison, 11,916 women (66.8 per cent) were undertrials.
The same NCRB report shows that 1,866 children were living with women in prison. A 2009 report, in a compendium published by the Bureau of Police Research and Development, says crèches and recreational facilities for children were not available in every prison.
The National Model Prison Manual 2016 recommends that in order to prevent social stigma, the birth certificates of children born in prison should not mention the prison as the place of birth.
The manual also says that women prisoners are entitled to various educational facilities and that ‘illiterate young offenders’ (aged 18-21) must compulsorily be educated. However, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) found that various prisons do not have facilities for basic education; access to higher education is almost entirely missing; and prison libraries (where they exist) are not accessible to women.
The manual adds that people in prison, especially women and children, should have Aadhaar cards so that they can access government welfare schemes.
Another recommendation is that a Prisoners’ Panchayat should be set up to organise events and provide an avenue for addressing grievances. A Mahapanchayat should also be held at least once a quarter with the prison superintendent in attendance.
Prisoners should be able to represent their grievances, verbally or in writing. They can do so before the district judge, a board of visitors (consisting of Legislative Assembly members, the State Human Rights Commission members and social workers), the State Commission for Women, and the District Legal Services Authority.
As per the Legal Service Authority Act, 1987, persons in custody are entitled to free legal services. The NHRC found that many prisons don’t have legal cells and very few people in prison have accessed legal aid. This report recommends that District and State Legal Service Authorities (which provide free legal aid) be linked to prisons.
According to Prison Statistics India 2015 (an NCRB publication), medical, judicial and government officials inspected 41,542 jails in India in 2015. Despite these inspections, the conditions in prisons remained dismal.
Focus and Factoids by Vasundhara Kamath.
Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India
Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India, New Delhi
05 Jun, 2018